Menace of Houthi-laid mines takes heavy toll on Yemenis
A member of the UAE Armed Forces is getting ready before searching for landmines in Al Mokha.
Yemen has been devastated by three years of conflict.
Yasser Yassin was driving along a road on Yemen's rugged Red Sea coast when a blast sent his Toyota Hilux flying into the air.
When he regained consciousness, the 30-year-old merchant realised he couldn't move his right leg or see with his right eye.
Yassin's car had hit an anti-tank mine, one of thousands left by Houthi rebels three months earlier when they conceded the Al Khoukha port area to southern Yemeni forces, their civil war adversaries in that part of Yemen.
His recovery has been far from straightforward, despite help from an anti-Houthi military coalition whose leading members are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
"They (coalition) took me to Aden where they fixed my leg, but there was an issue with the metal prosthesis and my leg got infected," Yassin, leaning on his crutches, said while visiting Al Mokha hospital for a follow-up after the blast in February.
Yemen has been devastated by three years of conflict in which President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi's government, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, is fighting to drive the Houthis out of cities they seized in 2014 and 2015.
The results of landmine use can be seen in the hallways of the hospital in Al Mokha town, located not far north of the strategic Bab Al Mandab strait, which were crowded with victims and visitors on a recent visit by the media.
Doctors and medical staff made their way between armed men to provide first aid to patients wounded by landmines, as well as by shrapnel and mortars.
"I was walking with my brother, I stepped on a mine and it went off," said Rashida, a 13-year-old girl fitted with a rudimentary prosthetic leg. Her father said she had never attended school because the closest one to their village in Taiz province was 30km away and had closed down after the Houthis invaded Taiz.
Residents and medics from Al Mokha and nearby villages said landmines had caused more casualties than the fighting in the area, which has seen the Houthis pushed out of some Red Sea coastal areas since 2016.
The explosives were buried randomly across the region, including in residential areas, playgrounds and under trees where many Yemenis traditionally sit to chew the local mild narcotic qat leaves, they added.
It is not clear how many people have been killed by these weapons, but two doctors and a government official said dozens had died just in the coastal areas of Al Mokha, Al Khoukha and Al Heiss since Houthis started withdrawing in early 2017.
The UAE armed forces and Yemeni troops said they harvest between 250 and 300 landmines every week in the western region. More than 40,000 devices have been neutralised since coalition-allied forces took control of the Red Sea coast in a series of battles starting in 2016.
Around 90 per cent of the landmines were locally made and most of the victims are civilians, they said. "They also have Russian-made landmines which they took from government warehouses when they invaded the capital Sanaa," said an expert in explosives in the UAE armed forces, who declined to be named.